ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Monday claimed victory in Iraq's parliamentary election and, striking a nationalist tone, warned foreign countries not to interfere in the process of forming the government.
"Thank God who has blessed his largest bloc with reform, a bloc that is neither Eastern nor Western, but Iraqi," Sadr said in a televised address on Monday night.
Preliminary results showed Sadr's movement leading by a large margin, securing over 70 seats in the parliament. The election was marred by a record-low turnout as voters and parties boycotted, citing concerns of fraud and disillusionment with the political system and politicians seen as corrupt.
Sadr sent strong messages to the international community and Iranian-backed militias that operate outside of government control.
"All embassies are welcomed as long as they do not interfere in Iraqi affairs and the formation of the government. If they interfere we will have a diplomatic response or even a popular response," he said.
The United States and Iran compete for strategic influence in Iraq. For years Sadr has been on the frontlines, calling on Western powers to leave Iraq. He has also now turned his eye towards Iranian-backed militias opposed to Western and especially American presence in the country.
"From now on, all arms should be in the hands of the state, and its use outside of that should be forbidden, even for those who call themselves the resistance," he said, referring to the militias.
The populist cleric, who earlier this year withdrew from the election, throwing the whole process into doubt until he was enticed back into the race, will now be the main force in the formation of the government and has started giving out promises to the people.
"All corrupt people will be punished wherever they are," Sadr said.
Members of his bloc, however, have been linked to corruption and ineptitude. Former health minister Hassan al-Tamimi was forced to resign after deadly hospital fires in Baghdad and Nasiriyah earlier this year, blamed on the ministry's negligence.
Sadr also promised to fix some of Iraq's financial problems.
"We will work on increasing the value of the Iraqi dinar against the value of international currencies," he said.
He had previously expressed his concern over the parliamentary decision in December to devalue the dinar. "The Central Bank and all other banks are prisoners of corruption and the corrupt. The government and parliament must seek specialized methods to end this and liberalize it immediately," he tweeted at the time.
Sadr led the largest bloc in the outgoing parliament. In the 2018 election, his Sairoon alliance, a coalition of Sadrists, the communist party, and some smaller groups, secured 54 seats.